I saw yet another piece about yet another Twitter outrage today. This time though, unlike most often, it was for a genuine reason. A streaming app called ‘Lionsgate Play’ came out with a new ad featuring a new Bollywood actress called Sanjana Sanghi and a male actor. The ad showed the couple trying to decide what to watch on the app. And the girl does that by slapping the boy repeatedly until he asks her to stop after the eighth time. With a victorious smile, she says they should watch the eighth show on the app! Who in their right mind conceives such an idea for an ad in the first place? And even if it crosses their mind, who in their right mind thinks that it is a good idea to go ahead and make it??? The morons who conceived this ad and the ones from the app’s management team who gave a nod to it must have thought that it was hilarious. But it is nothing but a disgrace, showcasing abuse of any kind as “fun”.
Abuse against women has been glorified as only a necessary corrective measure to ‘set a woman straight’ or to display ‘machoistic love’ in our movies from time immemorial. A woman who slaps a man onscreen for pestering her has been shown as an arrogant snob who would later ‘learn her lesson or pay for it’ too. I had written another blog long back about this shameless portrayal of machismo in our movies. And for decades, people, including women, thought that there was nothing wrong in it. In the superhit Malayalam movie, ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’, Koshi’s wife lets go of her meek submissiveness to her terrorizing father-in-law towards the end and the next instant Koshi slaps her. When she looks at him in shock, he asks her “Why couldn’t you do this before?”, thus making the slap a symbol of his love for her, the scene ending with the husband and wife sharing a tender moment of affection. That is how deep-rooted patriarchy is in our society, where even to display love, a man has to abuse a woman. This was in 2020!
In the last few years finally, at least a section of people, mostly driven by feminist ideals, have started questioning and calling out this trend and to some extent, that has brought in a change too. I have been very happy about that.
What I am not happy about is the effort to change the ‘arrogant snob’ image of women to badass in the wrong way. A slap or any kind of violence in a movie as a reaction to assault, abuse, perversion, catcalling etc is absolutely not wrong. In fact, it is something that should make women watching them feel stronger to react to such acts in real life. And such a character is never an ‘arrogant snob’, but a strong, independent woman. But to include scenes of women slapping men for no reason for comedic effect or to simply portray them as strong women is stupid.
In the same movie, ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’, there is a montage showcasing the female lead, Kannamma, as the ultimate badass woman who is fearless and strong. The montage shows her fighting for the rights of the weaker section of the society and leading protests, all with a toddler in her arms. But they felt that to prove the point they had to include a scene of her taking the protest to a government official’s room and slapping him in front of everyone. Of course, they showed a scene of her being arrested right after it. But that only made her look like ‘a rebel with a cause’ who got arrested for standing up for what is right. The fact that the slap was a totally unnecessary inclusion was conveniently ignored and Kannamma became the symbol of a strong woman, very much for the slap in addition to other reasons. For me, this scene was equally wrong as the one with Koshi slapping his wife.
In a totally different context, there is a scene in the much-loved 2020 Malayalam movie ‘Varane Aavashyamundu’ where the heroine’s friend tells her she is upset with her husband, who is also friends with the heroine, for smoking weed on the day of their wedding, and she needs ‘justice’. The guy is shown to be apologetic and trying to pacify his wife. The heroine goes to him, gives him one tight slap and brings closure to the issue. The wife chuckles, the husband looks at her sheepishly and the audience have a good laugh. I never understood how that was funny or why that scene was necessary to cement the heroine’s ‘strong’ image.
This is where these movies and the pathetic ad we talked about in the beginning get it wrong. The creators of these see that there is an increasing outrage about any kind of abuse shown towards women on screen. And they try to cash in on it with nothing but a role reversal, showing empowered women as those who can physically assault men, even when there is no reason for it. How on earth is that supposed to be a portrayal of empowerment or a joke to be laughed at? As I have always maintained, feminism is nothing but a fight for equality. But to make one strong, if the other has to be made or shown weak, then we miss the point. It was never about raising women to turn them from the ‘abused’ to the ‘abusers’. And that is exactly what is happening in these kinds of portrayals. I hope content creators will have the sense to understand this, as will those who applaud such content.
Also published on Medium.